We know that vaccines save millions of lives each year. We know they are, overwhelmingly, safe and certainly don't cause autism. Nevertheless, there is plenty we are still learning, including the discovery announced today that they are more effective when given in the mornings, at least for flu shots administered to older patients.
A group of 276 people aged over 65 were given the standard trivalent influenza from 2011 to 2013 at 24 West Midlands general practices as part of the U.K.'s vaccination program. Their antibody response was measured a month after the vaccination.
Those who had been given the shot between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. showed a significantly stronger response to two of the three flu strains than those injected between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. The third strain showed no significant difference, but the researchers plan to follow up with a larger study to see if the three strains align.
"We know that there are fluctuations in immune responses throughout the day and wanted to examine whether this would extend to the antibody response to vaccination,” Dr. Anna Phillips of the University of Birmingham said in a statement. “Being able to see that morning vaccinations yield a more efficient response will not only help in strategies for flu vaccination, but might provide clues to improve vaccination strategies more generally."
The findings have been published in the journal Vaccine.
Further research hopes to not only address the differences between the three strains of the virus, but whether the benefits also apply to the most vulnerable groups such as those with diabetes or kidney disease. Perhaps more importantly still, Phillips and her colleagues hope to test whether the same effect applies to all vaccines, and if not, which ones show similar benefits.
The work follows on from a study Phillips did showing that bereavement in the previous year reduces the number of antibodies we produce in response to vaccinations, while being in a happy marriage increases that response.
Boosting response to vaccines is a major challenge, particularly for people who need the vaccination the most, such as those with weakened immune systems. One method is the addition of adjuvants such as aluminum, but this has given the anti-vaccination movement an easy topic around which to run scare campaigns, despite a complete lack of evidence.
Phillips has made a career of researching the way neglected factors affect our health, particularly for older individuals. This has included evidence for the way a patient's psychological state alters their recovery from hip fractures and their capacity to fight off infections.
For some of us, one reason to look forward to retirement is not having to get up before 11 a.m., but it seems an exception is required at least one day a year.